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J.D.M. Stewart

J.D.M. Stewart


Unknown country? Try ‘Discovery Day,’ says J.D.M. Stewart Add to ...

You may know it as Heritage Day, Natal Day, Simcoe Day, Civic Holiday or something else, depending where you live. This week, The Globe and Mail invites readers and writers to consider a truly national name for the August holiday Monday.

You can share your own ideas for X Day. On the long weekend, we’ll have a look at some of the ones you’ve chosen, plus an essay by Warren Clements on what’s in a holiday name – the people, the controversies and what really resonates.

Do we ever remember
that somewhere above the sky
in some child’s dream perhaps
Jacques Cartier is still sailing,
always on his way always
about to discover a new Canada?
– from Jacques Cartier in Toronto,
by Miriam Waddington

It is probably not surprising that in Canada – that “community of communities,” in Joe Clark’s felicitous phrase – a great summer holiday has several different names, depending on where you live. And for some poor souls (salut, Quebec) there is no holiday at all.

In some provinces, including Ontario, people know the August respite as the Civic Holiday, but Toronto and Ottawa have weighed in and christened it Simcoe Day and Colonel By Day, respectively. In B.C., the holiday is known as British Columbia Day, and in Alberta, it’s Heritage Day.

Well-meaning names, to be sure – and kudos to Alberta, Toronto and Ottawa for the historical slant – but these names are rather parochial. It is time to go national.

With the country’s 150th birthday on the horizon, an opportunity exists for Canadians to turn the “August Long Weekend” into a national holiday. It will be a present to ourselves.

This holiday will have the same name across Canada, and every province will honour it. The Parliament of Canada will make it so, followed by the Governor-General’s Royal Assent. And then the people will celebrate.

In the spirit of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, this new holiday – Discovery Day, it shall be called – will be about communing with the country. It will be the second great party of the summer after Canada Day (née Dominion Day) and it will happen every year.

It should be noted that some of this inspiration comes from legendary regions of discovery in Canada, as both Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador already use “Discovery Day” for other holidays. But the theme needs a wider audience.

“No one knows my country, neither the stranger nor its own sons,” journalist and author Bruce Hutchison wrote in his 1942 classic The Unknown Country.

And he was right. All these decades later, the one thing that would really benefit all Canadians would be to make a point of getting to know another part of Canada or even another part of your own province. And there is no better time to do that than during a summer long weekend (though not at rush hour, perhaps).

A few small discoveries made all across the country quickly add up to a better appreciation of who we are. Un projet commune, as one might say in French.

Prime minister Wilfrid Laurier understood this. In 1910, after travelling by train to see the West, he noted that “I left home a Canadian to the core, I return 10 times more a Canadian.” This is what discovering your country can do.

The theme of discovery is in the DNA of this country, so let’s have a day to celebrate and encourage it. From Jacques Cartier to Chris Hadfield to everyone who has paddled a river, walked a beach, hiked a forest or read a new Canadian author, a new angle awaits.

Discovery Day will be your opportunity.

J.D.M. Stewart teaches Canadian history at Bishop Strachan School in Toronto. He will be discovering Prince Edward Island with his family this weekend.

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